MSS, Hunting Saddam, and Spoils of War


We may never know who scratched the letters “MSS” into the wall of a prison cell in Baghdad, or when it was done, but the discovery of the initials of missing Naval aviator Capt. Michael Scott Speicher raise hopes — one more time — that the last American missing from the first Gulf War may yet be found. Speicher, an F-18 pilot, was shot down on the first night of the 1991 war. When inspectors found the remains of his aircraft, its canopy had been blown off. The ejection seat, and a flight suit believed to be his were all found later, in shape consistent
with Speicher having survived. Speicher was first classified KIA/BNR — killed in action, body not recovered. Since then, he’s been reclassified twice and is now listed as missing, possibly a prisoner of war. Saddam’s regime always denied holding him, but the hunt goes on. He and his family deserve that much.

In the flood of small news yesterday, one report caught my attention. A Fox reporter searching the offices of Mohamed al-Sahhaf, aka Baghdad Bob the Saddamite propaganda minister, said his crew had found a handwritten note to Bob from Saddam dated 30 March. If the note is genuine, it would show that Saddam survived the first “decapitation strike” and was still in command ten days before Baghdad fell. British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon said the other day that Saddam is alive, and probably still in Iraq. If he is, the hunch is that he’s in the area near Tikrit, his home town. Oliver North is also there, with the Fourth I.D. If Saddam is found, I know one old Marine who will move heaven and earth to be there when the Ace of Spades in the Doomsday Deck is taken down.

Four more cards are out of the deck. Counting those believed dead, the fifty-five are now down to forty-one. Yesterday, four more high-ranking Ba’athists were captured — at least three near Tikrit — and the entrance to a previously unknown “palace” of Saddam was found. The “palace” buildings appear to be connected by the usual tunnel complex to an enormous underground petrochemical plant. The underground plant is likely part of the chemical warfare program. Nobody buries facilities like that unless they have something to hide. We’ll see. We’ll also see how many other people make the Metcalf Mistake.

Task force commander for the Grenada invasion, Adm. Joe Metcalf was one of those guys who you want to keep in a glass cage in peace, and only let him out when there’s fighting to be done. Returning from Grenada, the good admiral was found to have a few souvenir AK-47s in his luggage. I don’t recall the details of the punishment he received, but it was more than a “tsk tsk” from the boss. Grenada was dirt poor. The pickings in Iraq are much better and some civilians and military personnel will be spending some time in jail thinking better of what they tried to smuggle home.

No one should get excited if a few Iraqi flags, helmets, or other combat souvenirs come back with the guys. These things have no intrinsic value, and if the First Marines or the Third I.D. want to put them in a glass case in the headquarters building, fine by me. In any war, the soldiers are entitled to symbols of their sacrifice, memories of battles fought and comrades lost. But that’s not all that’s coming home from Iraq.

Saddam and his unholy offspring had some rather expensive tastes in weapons and pretty much everything else. The The Brit Customs Service has already seized a few gold-plated AK-47s bound for the U.S. A Fox News producer has apparently been caught with a few paintings taken from Uday’s palace. They weren’t Renoirs or van Goghs, just paintings of Saddam and the boys. It reminds me of the “art collection” that the banana republic dictator proudly displayed to Alan Arkin and Peter Falk in “The In Laws.” Black velvet with crouching lions and naked ladies. Who would want that stuff even if it were legal to take it? Dumb and dumber. Looting can be a war crime, and we take this seriously. Smuggling is no joke, either.

Leave the junk there, guys. Take a picture of your buddy holding it up. Well, maybe there’s one exception, in addition to flags and such. Apparently, Uday had a huge stash of Cuban cigars, and Saddam probably did too. Take my advice, guys. Smoke most of them there, and put just a few in ziplock bags. Small tupperware containers make the best travel humidors, but they probably are in short supply in a war zone. Hey, it’s just a coupla smokes, officer.

The growing unrest in the Shia community is becoming a serious obstacle to a new and democratic Iraq. It is the product of Iranian intervention. They mean to contest the future of Iran and though we won the first stage of the war, it’s not at all clear we are prepared to deal with this next phase. Gen. Jay Garner is holding meetings that the Shia are refusing to attend, and the expatriate Shia — such as Ahmad Chalabi — are not powerful in the religious community. We can talk about pressure on the Iranians by diplomatic means, but other means
should be undertaken immediately, and may already be under way. An aggressive intelligence campaign, funding Iranian opposition groups, should be trying to topple the mullahs. If nothting else, it may reduce their ability to produce in Iraq what they have made in Iran. Meanwhile, we need to find some way to bring prominent Shia into the fold.

The assassination of Iraqi Shiite leader Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf two weeks ago was almost certainly carried out by Iranian agents. Abdul al-Khoei intended to help form a new government. The lack of a replacement for him hurts. It delays, at best, and may thwart, at most, the ability of moderate Shia to join in forming a democratic government for Iraq. Which is exactly why the Iranians had him killed.